This first novel by an Asian-American has already created a lot of buzz. First, it has an intriguing topic: Mississippi after the great flood of 1927. Secondly: the main characters are compelling--they are very poor African-Americans under the yoke of the white inhabitants. Finally, it shows exquisite writing. William Ferris said, “Bill Cheng embraces the region’s 1927 flood, voodoo, blues, and race with breathtakingly beautiful prose.”
Southern Cross the Dogstarts with a group of black children playing “Little Sally Water” in the rain—the rain that caused the great flood. Soon the story focuses on the character of Robert, the second born child of Etta and Ellis. Before long, you discover that his family has just suffered an immense tragedy. White vigilantes had hung the oldest son Billy for loving a white girl.
Bill Cheng captures the chaos and hardship after the flood. Dead bodies floated past. Men with boats offered rides but also stole the food and valuable keepsakes of the displaced families. Robert’s family began this journey together, but ended up in a refugee camp. Because Etta has lost her mind over Billy’s death, she needs constant care. Ellis makes a difficult decision: to send young Robert off with someone to work in another town. Ellis thinks this is the only way all three of them will survive but he mistakenly does not tell his son why he is sending him away. Read more about Voodoo, Blues, and Wandering after the Great Flood
Quick! Name one thing you know about the Crimean War! Nothing? Florence Nightingale maybe?
Brief history lesson: The Crimean War was fought between Russia and an alliance of France and England over the declining Ottoman Empire in what is now part of the Ukraine. This war pre-dates World War I, and is often considered as the first modern war. It is also famous for Florence Nightingale who drastically improved nursing practices while caring for wounded British soldiers.
Sounds exciting, right? Ok, maybe not the most promising backdrop for a YA book, but In the Shadow of the Lamp has enough to keep you turning pages. Molly has been framed for theft and fired from her job as a parlor maid at a fancy London home. She decides to sneak her way onto a ship headed east when she hears that Miss Nightingale is looking for nurses. Even though she doesn’t have any training, Molly is headstrong and is willing to work hard. She is found out by Miss Nightingale, but her hard work and natural inclinations at nursing and caring for people proves her worthy. In fact, Molly's abilities are even a bit magical. The magical elements aren't played up too much and Molly is a likeable character as she struggles with defining her future, both professionally and personally. Whether during the Crimean War or now, trying to figure your way in the world is a timeless endeavor. Read more about Rosie Nominations and Historical YA Fiction
My last posting regarding the death of “The Adventures of Superman” star George Reeves resulted in my reminiscing about my childhood love of this particular Superman/Clark Kent. “The Adventures of Superman” is an interesting mix of adventure and plain silliness. The result is that there is something for almost everyone. The series started out as an adventure series aimed more at adults than children. In the beginning the series had an almost film noir quality about it; there were real mysteries and realistic (for the time) dangers. Superman may have saved the day, but the stories themselves would have fit well in almost any of the detective shows of the era. If you like a good story and don’t mind the cheesy special effects of the time, check out the first season of “The Adventures of Superman.” Once you get past the Superman origins episode you will find some good half hour mysteries. Read more about The Adventures of Superman
This memoir/adventure book recalls Cheryl's odyssey on the longest and most difficult of North America's long-distance hiking trails. With no experience and little planning, she encounters immense heat, rattlers, bears, cliffs, and raging snowstorms. But her journey is internal as well as external. Shortly before leaving her mother died and her marriage broke apart. This book describes what she learned about hiking, nature, and particularly herself during this journey.
In A Guide to Being Born, Ausubel’s narrative voice is strong and unique. She takes chances in her fiction yet unlike some modern authors, she still includes distinct narrative threads. You can tell she is an independent-minded author just from the layout of her collection--four sections titled: Birth, Gestation, Conception, and Love. Notice the order of her subjects, the reverse of what you might expect.
I fell in love with the first story “Safe Passage.” It begins this way, “The Grandmothers—dozens of them—find themselves at sea.” This boat full of older women find themselves adrift with hundreds of crates; they open them to see if any of the items will allow them to save themselves. The story is funny, whimsical, and fantastical all at once. Plus, it conceals a deeper level that you won’t discover right away. The grandmothers find shipping containers full of yellow roses, and they fill their arms with them despite the fact that the thorns leave blood tracks on their hands.
Another fantasy-rich story is “Chest of Drawers.” Toward the end of the wife’s pregnancy, her husband suddenly grows live drawers on his chest, a problem that necessitates many medical appointments and tests. Yet, the compartments come in handy for carrying things such as his wife’s lipstick and a bunch of tiny diversity dolls. Read more about Parenthood, Birth, and Other Transformations
Some books break your heart with their beauty; others break your heart with their sadness.Mighty Silence: Images of Destruction does the latter. In these days immediately following the highly destructive Oklahoma tornadoes of 2013, ripped homes, buildings, and schools are on our minds. This beautifully-produced book showcases many striking photographs of the Tohoku region of Japan where the massive tsunami struck two years ago.
The photos are large, some even opening into more than a two page spread. But the main thing that struck me about them is how seldom they include any people. I noticed only one person in the whole collection, a solitary utility repairman high in a crane over demolished houses and smashed cars. Animals are mostly missing also, except for one murder of crows crisscrossing the wires of one empty city, and a strange cat with radioactive-mutated whiskers near Fukushima. Read more about Photographing Loss